If you are interested in astronomy, you know that there are a lot of Planetarium applications that you can install on your computer in order to find your way around the night sky. Kstars is a well known standby for KDE (but of course it will run under Gnome as well). Search for “stars” in your package manager and you’ll see quite a few other pieces of software as well.
But when you get to “Stellarium” … stop and install that one.
Stellarium pretty much has all the stars. Well, not all of them. It has 120,000 stars (I understand there are billions and billions of them…). It has the planets and all the other stuff that’s up there in the night sky. You can zoom into the planets to see what they would look like if you had a telescope trained on them.
Stellarium is not the software you want for making accurate calculations and for very serious astronomical (amateur or otherwise) work. But it is a very nice looking rendition of the night sky, very configurable, with a lot of bells and whistles.
It does seem to want to take over the whole screen when you run it … I would prefer to run it in a window, and as yet have not found a setting to do this. I can tell you, though, that the documentation is somewhat annoying. A great deal of pride is observed in the fact that the documentation is available in several languages, but most of the easy-to-get-to quick guides are useless, and the main documentation is in enormous PDF files that seem to be trapped on very slow servers. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Stellarium runs on Windows and Macs as well as Linux. Having these alternative platforms (Windows and Mac) is nice, but it weights down what would otherwise be a reasonable amount of documentation with information no one is ever going to use. (Since this is Open Source software that works very nicely, is a bit geeky, and is highly educational, I tend to think most users will be Linux users).
Oh, and the software starts out assuming that you are in a field somewhere near Paris France. So, in order to properly use this software, go to France.
(Or make some adjustments. I’m sure it’s in the documentation somewhere … I’ll have a look as soon as the PDF file finishes downloading…)
How to get Stellarium, and More Information:
To install: Search for “stellarum” in your package manager, and click the box or do whatever you do to make stuff install. (Windows and Mac users, boy are you in the wrong place….)